By Lesia Winiarskyj

The Better Business Bureau is taking a page from Google and Yelp by offering enhanced online business reviews: allowing both consumers and businesses to view and shape a company's profile at bbb.org.

Howard Schwartz, executive director of communications for the Connecticut Better Business Bureau, explains: "Consumers have a tremendous thirst for complete, honest, accurate information, including other people's experiences with a product or service. They want a clear picture of a company: the kind of knowledge that helps them make buying decisions. They also need the basics about a company's operations: its location, hours of operation, and so on. Our goal is to house all that information in one place, to save consumers time searching different sites and sources."

Business Profiles on BBB's site may now include:

  • A company's products and services
  • Photos and videos
  • Customer reviews that can be shared directly from the BBB profile and automatically posted on Facebook and Twitter
  • Maps and directions
  • Return and exchange policies
  • Hours of operation
  • Areas served
  • Awards and certifications
  • Customer coupons
  • Requests for quotes on products or services

Businesses don't need to be accredited by the BBB to update their profiles, says Schwartz, but those that are can include their "BBB-accredited" logo with a tagline identifying how long they've been accredited. (More than 4,000 businesses are accredited by the Connecticut BBB.)

Social Commerce

Like it or not, the era of one-way communication, from sellers to buyers, is over.

Empowered by blogs, social networking sites, online discussion groups, product ratings, and reviews, consumers are increasingly active in starting, influencing, and changing the nature of conversations about a company's brands.

And despite misgivings that companies might have about allowing customers to help shape their profile, research shows that having a consumer-centric site can give businesses a competitive edge: even if not all their customers' reviews are glowing.

Wendy Moe, co-author of a study conducted this year by the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business, says that while negative customer ratings can drive sales down in the short term, encouraging consumer reviews: both positive and negative: actually increases sales for a company's product categories as a whole.*

Indeed, consumers are not interested only: or even primarily: in whether there are complaints about a company, says Schwartz, "but whether those complaints are resolved and whether they are dealt with in a timely fashion. They're looking at the entire profile, not just one review, and getting the big picture. People are holding onto their money more tightly these days, and the issue of trust is increasingly important. Trust is currency."

To view and enhance your own company profile, click here and type in your company name. Then click "View BBB review." Connecticut BBB expects to have fully enhanced business profile capabilities this fall.

*Moe, Wendy and David Schweidel. (2011). "Online Product Opinion: Incidence, Evaluation and Evolution," Marketing Science, forthcoming.

Lesia Winiarskyj is a writer/editor at CBIA. She can be reached at lesia.winiarskyj@cbia.com.